The Life and Work of Tenzin Lobsang, the 5th Samdhong Rinpoche

Tenzin Lobsang

Known to Tibetans as the 5th Samdhong Rinpoche, tenzin lobsang served as prime minister (officially Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan government-in-exile from 1991 to 2001. He drafted the new constitution of the Tibetan government-in-exile and worked on issues related to education, economic development and transparency.

After he was diagnosed with MDR TB, he continued to work and pursue a graduate degree while undergoing treatment.

His life and work

He was a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and the first non-monk to become prime minister of the Tibetan Central Administration, the government-in-exile. He was also a noted public speaker and an author.

He grew up in Jol, eastern Tibet, and was recognised, according to tradition, as the reincarnation of the 4th Samdhong Rinpoche at age five. He subsequently took monastic vows and began his religious training at the Drepung monastery in Lhasa, where he completed the study of Madhyamika.

In 1988 he joined the anti-China movement which was growing in strength and popularity among Tibetans around the world. He travelled to India and became active in the organization of the First Tibetan Youth Congress along with Tenzin Geyche, Sonam Topgyal and Gyari Rinpoche. The congress went on to become one of the most important Tibetan organizations in exile and Lobsang served as a member of its first leadership executive committee. He also co-founded the Tibet Fund.

His political activities

In the 1990s, Tenzin Delek was an active participant in the growing anti-China movement in Tibet. He took on projects that improved health care, education and living conditions for Tibetans in the Nyagchu region, often making enemies with mining and logging companies that benefited from China’s deliberate dilution of the culture and population.

During his time in Drapchi prison, he became famous for his bold demonstrations against mistreatment and for requesting the retrial of other prisoners. He was able to get the attention of many outside the jail, and other prisoners began saving their food rations in order to help him.

Tenzin Delek is the first case in the post-Mao era in which a Tibetan has been convicted of both separatism and bombing. TIN has no evidence that links Tenzin Delek to the bombings, and his incarceration raises concerns that the Chinese government is trying to equate separatism with terrorism.

His personal life

Upon his return to the United States, Lobsang taught at several colleges and universities. He was also the co-director of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. He has developed Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), a secular compassion meditation program that incorporates elements of traditional Tibetan Buddhist mind training.

He was born in Jol, eastern Tibet and recognised as the reincarnation of the 4th Samdhong Rinpoche at the age of five. He joined one of the great monasteries in central Tibet at Jol and started his religious studies under the residence teachers Gen Kunchok Gyaltsen and Kalsang.

He fled to India with lakhs of Tibetan refugees after the 1959 Tibet Ribellion and became the political leader of the exile community. He has been active in the movement to bring Tibet back into the international arena and he supports non violence, women rights, social justice and interfaith harmony around the world. He has authored many books and has spoken on peace, religion, and culture in various forums and venues.

His health

In March 1988, while studying at Tibet University in Lhasa, Lobsang participated in a pro-independence demonstration. A police officer died in the protest, either by falling or being thrown from a window, and Lobsang was charged with his murder.

International pressure on the Chinese government led to Lobsang’s death sentence being commuted to 20 years in prison, but his condition has deteriorated significantly since then. He now suffers from severe diabetes and a heart condition that may have caused a stroke.

A professor in Emory University’s Department of Religion and spiritual director of Atlanta’s Drepung Loseling Monastery, Negi makes meditating look easy, but it takes a great deal of patience and dedication to master the practice. He continues to risk his health and safety for the benefit of others, including Tibetan prisoners in China. He also collaborates with researchers from multiple disciplines to study compassion and its effects on the body and mind. He is an inspiration to many.

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